Violence Against Women Act Passes House With Funding for USVI

Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and when it did, it included an amendment from Delegate Stacey Plaskett giving more money to help women and children who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Domestic violence has increased in the territory since the storms.

“According to psychologists in the Virgin Islands, a recent increase in domestic violence cases can partially be attributed to the residual stress of the disastrous hurricanes of 2017. Even before this uptick, the territory was massively under equipped to shelter and protect the victims of violence and this situation has only worsened since. There is currently one domestic violence and abuse program on St. Thomas that offers a hotline but no emergency shelter. On the island of St. Croix, there is one program that offers a hotline and emergency shelter to victims,” Plaskett said in a statement.

“The landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994 ushered in transformative progress by calling for the protection of women and all Americans from violence and abuse, while working to ensure survivors have access to essential services. Each time Congress reauthorized VAWA, they have strengthened it to improve protections and access to safety and justice for all survivors. Since 1994, the rate of domestic violence has declined by roughly 50 percent. However, the extent of domestic violence in the Virgin Islands remains far too high,” Plaskett said.

She said the new reauthorization, like previous ones, makes some improvements to address gaps in current law, based on extensive consultation with victim service providers, law enforcement, and other experts. “One of those improvements was my amendment which doubles the available funding to the Virgin Islands and other small territories under the Sexual Assault Services Program and the Transitional Housing Assistance Program,” she said.

The law was first drafted by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) back in in 1994 and has been reauthorized several times since. It helps fund investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, allows civil suits when crimes are not prosecuted, established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice, among other things. It was largely uncontroversial for many years and was reauthorized several previous times. Republicans tried to cut funding for it in 1995. It was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. While some Republicans opposed reauthorization in 2012 due to opposition to changes protecting partners in same sex couples a bipartisan majority reauthorized it again in 2013. It lapsed in 2018 with many Republicans opposing a new provision banning people convicted of misdemeanor stalking or misdemeanor assault from owning guns. Previously, only those convicted of felonies were barred.

The statement cites support from the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix.

“With violence on the rise in the territory, coupled with the extreme lack of housing, it has been extremely difficult to ensure the safety and well-being of victims and survivors. Hopefully, this additional funding will go a long way to address the needs of victims and survivors in our community,” Women’s Coalition Executive Director Clema Lewis said.